COLLEGE STATION, Texas — As the number of coronavirus cases increase, questions about the accuracy of the data has also risen.
“It’s really hard to know who’s actually dying of COVID because we think there’s a lot of misdiagnosis, so a lot of people aren’t being diagnosed and it doesn’t get on the record," said Texas A&M School of Public Health Dr. Marcia Ory.
Having previous underlying conditions may make diagnosing the cause of a death more difficult. Dr. Ory said knowing the primary cause of death along with the secondary and tertiary cause is important to understanding the death rate from coronavirus.
“We wish we had perfect data. We don’t have it, whether it’s COVID this year or Opiods last year, it’s the exact same thing. It’s really hard particularly in Texas because there are so few counties that have medical examiners, so if you do die and you’re in a county without a medical examiner, it’s often just a piece of what determines your cause of death. So the one thing that we could do in general even before COVID, better accounting of how people are dying and what the underlying causes are," said Dr. Ory.
If someone with COVID-19 dies in a car wreck, marking their cause of death as a coronavirus death may not be the most accurate. This pandemic brings to light how data can be miscalculated when counting the death rate.
“Something like COVID can help us do better reporting of morbidity and mortality. It’s a wake up call that we need to have better data, and to keep data at the local level, state level, [and] the national level. Let’s use [these] negative conditions as a way of saying 'let’s build public health infrastructure to have better surveillance' so we’ll know for now and know for the future," said Dr. Ory.
She also added that knowing all underlying health conditions is important for death records.
We reached out to the Brazos County Health District and asked them how they classify the reporting of COVID-19 deaths. They did not return our request for comment.
While it's known COVID-19 can aggravate those underlying conditions, dying from COVID-19 versus dying with COVID-19 remains a question at this time.